How to make robots speak to robots and make an impractical but amusing interface to Spotify

Rob Manuel writes:

I often find myself a but stumped when asking Alexa which music to play. When you can have everything where do you start? It’s helpful to have a prompt.

Thinking about this I wondered about using Uk Charts as a starter, if someone could just tell me “this record once charted” then I could go “yeah, I fancy listening to that.” Or not.

So decided to play with some chart data and see what I could do.

Ok, fine, I’ve made a randomiser that spits out a random hit but how to get it to play on Spotify? Well, I could use some sort of API but then it occurred to me it might be amusing to get my computer to speak the phrase and have Alexa listen.

Wildly impractical but kinda funny.

One minute of experimenting later and yes, you can use the OS X command say and Alexa will respond. Well, with a bit of jiggling, my Alexa would only work with “say Ah-lex-uh play ‘duran duran'”

Watch it at work here:

Play with the code here:

Amstrad BASIC that approximates the tiling schemes that a local council might have used for a municipal building in the 1970s

A post from Rob Manuel:

I like to doodle around with code and I found myself spending two days of my life fiddling with Amstrad BASIC – a platform that’s been obsolete since about 1988, getting it to output stuff that looks like council tiles or bus fabric designs.

There’s something really delightful about returning to a programming language after 30 years and working within the limits of the system and just having fun.

Pretty sure I’ve sat on this

Certain I’ve seen this in the town hall in Wolverhampton

Which tube line is this?

Truth be told I didn’t start from the point of trying to make stuff that looks like bus fabric / council tiles but from thinking about how old computers with limited palettes used to mix colour by placing alternate coloured pixels next to each other.

This was prompted by thinking about Jill Lawson‘s work – a pixel artist who came to minor public fame in the mid 80s where her work was featured in Amstrad Computer User and then she was invited onto Blue Peter.

(If anyone from BBC Archive reads this, please dig out that clip and stick it online.)

BTW: The more I look at this – the more I realise what complete work of art it is. Not just technique but content too. The fine detail, the water, the swans, the plant life contrasted with the teenage boy looking down, absorbed in self. “Look around you! Enjoy the world!” Jill appears to be saying.

Incredibly she only uses four colours, as that’s what the computer could display in 320×200 but her choice of palette and colour mixing gave the illusion of many more.

I had to zoom in on this image to believe there’s only one yellow in it.

So I wrote some code to mix colours and did it on an Amstrad emulator because that had a certain purity about it and this was the result:

But then whilst fiddling I started sending it different characters than simply the hash one and quite liked the results.

It also produces stuff that reminds me of swimming pool tiles:

Anyway – here’s the type-in if you want to have a play. And yeah it’s a type-in because I think offering a type-in is amusing in 2018, and partly because my head has been filled with this stuff through running @yorecomputer.

(And there’s two errors in that listing – line 210 twice and the instructions are wrong about the ‘a’ key – that should be the ‘i’ key.)

And what have I learnt from coding BASIC 30 years later? GOSUBS are just as unreadable as any GOTO. But playing in text modes is just fun, and it has a distinct look to it, or aesthetic as the kids say today.

And then as now I like to just go where the code takes me. I started with wanting to stipple and ended with bus seats.

And finally – let’s just show some more output shall we?

I love generative stuff. Ordered randomness. It’s what the bots are, it’s what this is. I like nothing better than plonking a few rules together and pressing GO and seeing what comes out.

British street signs that have been fantastically improved by vandals removing or adding letters

Your B3ta editor Rob writes…

I was off to the cinema the other night and walked past a local street sign in North London that once again had been vandalised to turn “Raveley Street” into “Rave Street” so I took a snap and tweeted it:

What I didn’t expect was that a load of people would reply with photos of similar comedy desecrations in their areas.

It’s like a folk resistance to boring names – a small bit of British anarchy asserting our right to be puerile – here’s the 12 best examples so far.

1. Apse Heath

2. Dogpool Lane

3. Atherstone Mews

4. Prentis Road

5. Clint Lane

6. Essex Drive

7. Wellingborough

8. Bellenden Road

9. Corn Street

10. Shilbottle

11. Canal Street

12. Bateman Street

Although there’s one way to deal with this kind of tomfoolery – don’t put enough space on the sign for any extra letters

If you have any more then add them to the thread on Twitter.

B3ta swag – like an unboxing video but with stuff sent to us by b3tans and no video

At B3ta we’re keen to support small creatives and also get free swag.

So if you send us your stuff you have for sale we’ll feature it here.

(Assuming we like it)

Thanks to Ed Saperia for Band Manager: the board game

Available to buy over at

Thanks to Stuart Ashen for his wonderful Flickering Skeletons book

Turns out this was from Stu but we didn’t notice the note until after.

Make sure you buy it at Amazon.

“Don’t work for The Sun” badges

Produced by

Drunken Baker book

Available at

A ‘Pier Review’ book

Available on Amazon.

Mystery record…

Apparently something to do with this game.

Thanks to Michael M for sending us his goth colouring book

You can buy one at

Thanks to MJ Hibbett for sending us his new album on cassette

Buy your copy at

Thanks to Chris at Go Fast Stripe for this big pile of comedy DVDS

Buy your copies at

If you’ve got something you’ve produced and want to send us, then stick it in the post at

B3ta HQ, 115 Fortess Road, NW5 2HR

Your “Work Related Fuck-Ups”

Your answers to our “work related fuck-ups” question will improve any bad day.

We asked over on Twitter that “We want to hear about your work related fuck-ups” and the answers flooded in.

We’ve picked just a few of our favourites but really there’s so many more on the actual thread and we’re not even including the eye-popping Ketamine story as it’s multithread and you should just go and read it on Twitter.

But seriously – if you’re ever having a bad day at work, come back to this page and read how so many people have fucked up worse.

Glorious stuff – so much hilarious incompetence, and we’re picked just 16 and we could have picked so many more:

1. Pizza fuck-up

2. Autocorrect fuck-up

3. Jam fuck-up

4. Virus fuck-up

5. Music fuck-up

6. Stepladder fuck-up

7. Teaching fuck-up

8. Milkshake fuck-up

9. Catheter fuck-up

10. Smoking fuck-up

11. Reply fuck-up

12. Twitter fuck-up

13. Greenpeace fuck-up (from b3ta editor Rob)

14. Coffee fuck-up

15. Mushroom fuck-up

16. Sausage fuck-up

And finally – one more which had us going “well, did he?”

Thanks for everyone for taking part and thanks for being so wonderfully crap.

Top image by @happytoast

“The Fuckers Burned The Lot” – an extract of “The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band who Burned a Million Pounds” by JMR Higgs

With Bill Drummond’s 65th birthday today – we thought it would be good to publish an extract of the The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band who Burned a Million Pounds by JMR Higgs.

Honestly one of the best books we’ve ever read and if you don’t buy it by reading the end of this extract then, well you have free will, but you’d be doing yourself a disservice.

PROLOGUE: The Fuckers Burned The Lot

Jim Reid retired to his hotel room at around midnight on 22nd August 1994. Half an hour later there was a knock at the door. It was Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, and they had the suitcase with them.

“Come on, we’re going to do it now”, said Drummond.

Reid asked why. “There’s just a time when you instinctively know it is right,” Cauty replied. The plan had been to get up early on the morning of the 23rd and climb, with the suitcase and its contents, to the top of one of the mountains that dominate the island of Jura. Well, it was now technically the morning of the 23rd. The mountain was unimportant.

“Do you remember Christmas when you were a kid, and you just couldn’t wait for morning?” Drummond asked.

Reid was a journalist who had been taken to Jura by Drummond and Cauty in order to act as a witness. He grabbed his Dictaphone and followed. They left the warmth of the hotel and went outside into the night. Here they met the fourth member of their party, Alan Goodrick, a Falklands War veteran and rock tour manager more commonly known as Gimpo. It was raining.

Drummond did not look like one of the most successful and credible pop stars on the planet. He was forty years old with an everyman haircut and the sort of thoughtful, respectable demeanour you might associate with a secondary school teacher. Nevertheless, he had produced a string of global number one singles and had just come first in Select magazine’s ‘100 Coolest People’ list. Jimmy Cauty, the other half of the duo known as The KLF (amongst other things), was a few years younger with wild dark curly hair and a more anarchic sparkle in his eyes.

The suitcase went into the hire car’s boot. Reid had still not seen the contents of the case at this point, but he was pretty sure he knew what was inside. Gimpo had also guessed. During the flight to the Hebridean island the thought of killing Drummond and Cauty in order to steal the suitcase had entered his head. He didn’t do that, of course. He just thought about it.

Well you would, wouldn’t you?

Gimpo drove them away from the hotel, down a rough track and across the Scottish island. The night was pitch black. “This just feels better”, Drummond said, “going out in the night when it’s pissing down with rain.”

A few minutes later they pulled up by a deserted stone boathouse. Cauty had discovered it earlier in the evening when he and Drummond had been searching for the remains of a giant wicker man they had burned three years earlier, in front of dozens of robed and hooded members of the music press. They stepped out into the cold. Gimpo left the car lights on and they illuminated the rain, the bracken and the boathouse. They took the suitcase out of the boot.

They went inside. The flame from a cigarette lighter revealed rough stone walls and an earth floor. Ropes hung from old wooden rafters. And at the far end: a fireplace.

The suitcase was opened and its contents were dumped onto the ground. The four men stared down at the heap of paper at their feet.

It was a million pounds.

Very few people get to see a million pounds sterling first hand. Even fewer get to dump it on to a dirt floor in a remote abandoned building in the middle of the night. Those fifty pound bundles were power and potential in its purest form. It was countless acts of compassion and charity, or a lifetime without work. The amount was highly symbolic. It was the amount that is associated with success; the quantity of money needed to not only escape the rat-race, but to win it. That money was freedom, both physically and symbolically.

Cauty opened the first bundle and took out two fifty pound notes. He handed one to Drummond and set fire to both with his lighter. Despite the cold and damp, the flame readily ate through the paper. More notes were placed in the fireplace and, over the course of the next two hours, the fuckers burned the lot.

On their return from the Isle of Jura, Drummond and Cauty found themselves at the start of the long, hard process of coming to terms with what they had just done. As Cauty told the BBC six months after the burning, “Every day you wake up and think, ‘Oh God – I’ve just burned a million quid.’ Nobody thinks it was good. Everyone thinks that it’s a complete waste of time.” The heart of the problem was that they did not know why they had done it. “I don’t know what it is, what we did. Some days I do. Bits of it,” Drummond said, “But I’ve never thought that it was wrong.”

Drummond and Cauty’s inability to justify or explain their actions is one of the most intriguing aspects of what happened on Jura. It echoes the fates of the founders of Dadaism, the small group of artists and radicals who opened the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich in the midst of the First World War. The Cabaret only lasted for six months, and no recordings were made of what happened there, yet those present spent the rest of their lives trying to come to terms with what they had done. They never really did. As the writer Greil Marcus points out, “This is the best evidence – the only real evidence – that something actually happened in Zurich in the spring of 1916.”

The money burning, however, was recorded. Gimpo had filmed the event with a small camcorder. In the months after the burning, as Drummond and Cauty searched for some context or insight to allow them to understand their actions, the idea that they should show people the film arose. Perhaps if they showed the film and asked for help, someone might be able to explain to them what they had done? This was, needless to say, a terrible idea. They were hardly in their right minds at the time, however, so they set about organising a film tour of arts venues and unusual locations around the British Isles. The first screening, on August 23rd 1995, would be in the village hall back on Jura.

People were, by and large, rather angry. This is not surprising. If you ask a crowd to tell you why you burned a million pounds, when that crowd would very much like to have a million pounds themselves and know that they never will, then there is not going to be a huge amount of sympathy in the room.

It was the pointlessness of the whole thing that got to people. When it was revealed in a court case in 2000 that Elton John had somehow spent £40 million in 20 months, including £293,000 on flowers, people reacted differently. There was much head shaking, tutting and many jokes, but generally speaking people didn’t take it personally. It was Elton John’s money after all, and his extravagance seemed in keeping with the personality that earned him that money in the first place. His wasted money, at the very least, had made a number of florists happy.

When Cauty and Drummond wasted their money it felt different. Seeing video footage of the burning was a genuine shock. Their money looked like kidney dialysis machines, beds in homeless shelters or funding for young artists in a way that Elton John’s wasted money didn’t. This wasn’t money being wasted; it was money being negated. The argument that it was their money, and they could do what they liked with it, didn’t ring true. What they had done felt wrong.

The adverts for the film screenings read, “Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond urgently need to know why did the K Foundation [Drummond and Cauty’s post-KLF name] burn a million quid? Was it a crime? Was it a burnt offering? Was it madness? Was it an investment? Was it Rock n’ Roll? Was it an obscenity? Was it art? Was it a political statement? Was it bollocks? There will be screenings of the film ‘Watch The K Foundation Burn A Million Quid’ at relevant locations over the next twelve months. Each will be followed by a debate attended by Messrs Cauty and Drummond where the answers to the above questions and others will be sought.”

Debate did follow, but very little of it seemed helpful to Drummond and Cauty. There was some talk of art, pranks, scams and promotion, but nothing that really held up to scrutiny. Many wondered if the whole thing was a hoax, and if they ever burned money at all (this idea was discredited by a later BBC documentary, which produced a trail of evidence showing that the money was genuine).

Very quickly, however, a consensus view formed. It was a view that explained to most people’s satisfaction exactly what had happened. This consensus arose spontaneously from many different audiences and it allowed most people to put what had happened behind them and move on. The consensus was this: Drummond and Cauty are a pair of attention seeking arseholes.

It did seem like a power trip. As the pair sat behind a desk at the screenings it was easy to imagine that they were thinking, “We had a million pounds, something that you will never be able to obtain no matter how hard you work. And we didn’t want it. But we wouldn’t give it to you. We’d rather burn it than give it to you. So we did. Because we could.”

The fact that they did not know why they burned the money did not really figure in this reaction. Very few really believed that anyway. Were not the pair, according to almost every article written about them, some form of “master media manipulators?” The KLF, it was understood, were people who definitely knew what they were doing, for how else could you explain their success? From this perspective, their claim to be unable to justify their actions appeared to be an excuse to hold screenings and rub people’s noses in what they had done.

There were some supporters, of course, who praised the burning sincerely and genuinely. They often had some pet critical theory, a personal tower of cards, which allowed them to view the burning as artistically important. They were very much a minority, however, and nothing they could do or say could compete with the pair of attention seeking arseholes interpretation.

And really, who could say that that interpretation wasn’t true? Perhaps that was the crux of the matter. Perhaps there was nothing else to add.

The futility of it all came to a head whilst sitting in a Little Chef diner near Aviemore, in the Scottish Highlands, the morning after a screening of the film in Glasgow. Drummond and Cauty had had enough. The screenings, they finally understood, were not going to achieve anything. They began to draw up a contract that would force them to walk away from the whole thing. The contract read:

For the sake of our souls we the trustees of the K Foundation agree unconditionally, totally, and without hesitation to a binding contract with the rest of the world, the contract is as follows.

Bill Drummond + Jimmy Cauty agree to never speak, write or use any other form of media to mention the burning of one million pounds of their own money which occurred on the Island of Jura on 23 August 1994 for a period of 23 years after the date of signature.

Bill Drummond + Jimmy Cauty are free to end the K Foundation in all respects for a period of 23 years after the date of signature.

Bill Drummond + Jimmy Cauty agree to store all assets of the K Foundation, including the ash of the one million pounds burnt on Jura, for a period of 23 years from the date of signature. This is to be completed within 14 days of signature.

Bill Drummond + J Cauty agree to allow Alan Goodrick use, for whatever purpose, the film “Watch The K Foundation Burn A Million Quid” and all film rushes.

Bill Drummond + Jimmy Cauty agree to publish this contract as a one page advert in a broadsheet of their choice within 14 days of signature and to cover costs.

It is agreed that in signing this contract, the postponing of the K Foundation for the said period of 23 years, provides opportunity of sufficient length for an accurate and appropriately executed response to their burning of a million quid.

All that remained was to sign the contract and confirm the agreement. Cauty and Drummond had an idea about how to do this. They would write the contract on Gimpo’s van and then push that van over the cliffs at Cape Wrath on the northern tip of Scotland. That, it was felt, would be a suitable end to the matter.

Gimpo reacted to this idea by immediately returning to his van and driving back to London, leaving Drummond and Cauty stranded. This is one of the few sensible acts in this story.

Nevertheless, a G-reg Nissan bluebird was soon hired, Cauty and Drummond signed the contract in gold pen on the windscreen, and the poor car was duly pushed over the cliff to fall hundreds of feet into the crashing North Atlantic surf. Cauty had first removed the radiator cape because it would ‘smoke better’ as it fell.

And that should have been that.


Except that the pair of attention seeking arseholes consensus doesn’t really explain a great deal. It’s an incomplete picture. There are many attention seeking arseholes about but, by and large, they don’t go around burning their last million pounds.

Then there’s the matter of their inability to come to terms with what they did. The writer Andrew Smith described in The Observer how a long-time friend and associate of the KLF told him that they knew the burning was real “because afterwards, Jimmy and Bill looked so harrowed and haunted. And to be honest, they’ve never really been the same since.” Like the founders of the Cabaret Voltaire, the fact of their bewilderment is evidence that they were swept along by something larger, and something not of their design.

The fact that their actions are so incomprehensible suggests that we must be missing something. Somehow our view of our world or our culture is incomplete. Even if we accept that Cauty and Drummond were attention seeking arseholes, there still must have been some strange influences pushing them in that particular direction. We can be fairly certain, given the end result, that these influences will be disturbing and irrational. But if we pursue those influences, what will we find? Will they be interesting? More importantly, will they be useful?

How do you tell a story such as this?

In December 1995 I was fortunate enough to spend an evening with the American author Robert Anton Wilson. At the time I was researching a book about Timothy Leary, and Leary was a good friend and a major influence on Wilson.

It occurred to me to ask him his thoughts on the KLF. Robert Anton Wilson, it was generally understood, was a major figure in the KLF story. He co-wrote The Illuminatus! Trilogy, an underground but influential series of novels which had acted as inspiration and as a guiding philosophy for Drummond and Cauty’s musical adventures. The first name they used together, The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, was taken directly from this work.

The reason I asked Wilson about The KLF had nothing to do with Timothy Leary. It was because I was intrigued by a rumour that I had heard via a friend of Cauty. The rumour was this: Although it was frequently claimed that the initials ‘KLF’ didn’t mean anything, or that they meant different things at different times (Kings of Low Frequencies, Kopyright Liberation Front, and so on), the initials did actually have a specific meaning. According to this rumour, KLF stood for ‘King Lucifer Forever’.

I was unsure what to make of this, but it didn’t feel right. The idea that there was the hidden secret at the heart of the band contradicted everything else I knew about them. It implied that they had a purpose, and that they knew what they were doing. This, to my way of thinking, seemed deeply out of character. Still, it was an odd thing for a friend of Cauty’s to claim, and an odd thing for someone to invent. I wondered if there was an air of ‘Chinese whispers’ about the phrase. Perhaps someone had made this suggestion as a joke after the band had ended, and the nature of word of mouth morphed it into the more interesting and definitive version which I heard?

Regardless, it planted in my head the idea that the story of the KLF would need to be told on very different levels to normal rock biographies. So I asked Wilson what his thoughts about the KLF were.

“I’ve never heard of them,” he told me.

“They were a British band who first called themselves the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu? They went on to burn a million pounds?” I prompted.

He shrugged. He explained that there were an awful lot of bands who played around with that imagery, and that he couldn’t keep track of them all. He also said that punk bands seemed particularly keen on it, which surprised him a little, as he wasn’t really into the punk thing.

I hadn’t expected that. Almost every account of the origins of The KLF mentioned Robert Anton Wilson. He was, I was sure, an integral part of their story and it seemed reasonable for him to be aware of this. The fact that he didn’t, however, provided the first hint into how this story could be told.

It is not necessary for a character in a story to be aware of that story. This is not something that we understand instinctively or intuitively. The films we watch are focused on a hero’s journey, and we automatically interpret the other characters as being part of that hero’s story. If we see merchandise from the Harry Potter movies (for example) which shows minor characters from the films, then this does not strike us as odd. That character is part of those films, after all, and therefore part of Harry Potter’s story.

Often, however, those characters should have no knowledge of the story that they are in. They may feature in an early scene and never be seen again, remaining blissfully ignorant of the events that follow. They would have no more reason for thinking that they were part of ‘Harry Potter’s story’ than the story of anyone else that they met. Indeed, the idea that this was ‘Harry’s story’ would seem ludicrous because, as far as they are concerned, they are in the middle of their own story. Their story could conceivably be more dramatic and exciting than Harry’s. To them, Harry would be a bit player in their own story, not vice versa. This is certainly the situation in narratives which deal with real, as opposed to fictitious, people. We are all forming our own narratives and we can’t be expected to keep track of everybody else’s narratives, no matter how much they would like us to.

In the light of Wilson’s comments, I started to wonder if there was such a thing as a story that no-one knows they are in – least of all the main characters. Could a complete narrative develop by itself with no-one guiding it or steering it? You would instinctively think not, yet whenever I thought about the KLF story and Cauty and Drummond’s confusion about their actions, I couldn’t shake the idea that there was nobody involved who could hear the story that was being told.

On one level the story of The KLF is easy to tell, because almost everything that they did between 1987 and 1994 was well recorded. Almost every song they produced, interview they gave, video they made or press release they issued is archived on the internet somewhere (or at least was and will be again – KLF websites and .ftp archives have a habit of appearing and disappearing). For this we must thank Drummond and Cauty’s championing of Situationist ideas, particularly with regard to their views on copyright. The Situationists were a small but influential group of avant-garde thinkers from the 1950s who thought that culture was forced upon us, and that we needed to take control of it. These ideas sufficiently influenced KLF fans so that, when the internet grew in the years after the band split, they digitised their collections and shared them with the world.

Thanks to these copyright-ignoring KLF fans, it is possible to download the entire story of The KLF, as it played out in the media, in an afternoon. Then, with every press article, photograph and interview laid out before you, you can then begin to pull a narrative out of all that data. The Situationists would have made a distinction between this mass of cultural data, what they would have called the spectacle of The KLF, and the actual events that caused this spectacle. What we have is not what happened, but it is all we can know about what happened. As the Situationists saw it, it is all that you can ever have to go on.

This made sense to me because of my experience researching the Timothy Leary biography. For that book, I behaved as you would expect a conscientious biographer to behave, and for a very good reason. I had never written a book before, or indeed any text of length. I didn’t know what I was doing, essentially, and wanted to hide that fact from people. As a result I worked diligently and tracked down people who had first-hand knowledge of events, formed a good relationship with his estate and gained access to a number of archives, including Leary’s own. I travelled thousands of miles and I got to know as many people as my budget and time frame would allow, because basically that is what you are supposed to do.

As I progressed with this research, however, I noticed a surprising pattern in the data. Time and again, older books, letters and interviews proved to be far more illuminating than first hand interviews. It soon came apparent that accounts of events changed over time, and that the ‘truth’ of what happened depended very much on the date of your source. This was clear to me because I had access to Leary’s own archive of papers. I could read letters and diary entries written at the time, find later magazine interviews about the same period, and also speak to surviving witnesses thirty or forty years after the event. These differing sources revealed a drift away from the raw chaos of what actually happened into a neater, simpler narrative which didn’t always match with the original sources. Even though later sources could offer greater perspective and illuminate things that were not apparent at the time, I adopted a rule of favouring the older sources whenever possible. They captured the flavour of the times, somehow, in a way that the more considered later versions didn’t.

Researchers have studied this drift of memory into error in great detail, and found it to be an undeniable fact of our lives – even if most people refuse to accept it about their own memories. This drift has been found to be so precise and predictable that it can be plotted on a graph, known as the Ebbinghaus curve of forgetting. What happens is that witnesses slowly absorb events into their own narrative, losing the loose ends and unexplained incidents and making sense of what they can with respect to their own lives and prejudices. We all do this. Indeed, if modern neuroscience is correct, it is something that we do far more than we think. The role of the ego, it appears, is less like a President or a Prime Minister deciding on a course of action, and more like their spin doctor, explaining the action afterwards in the best possible light. We rationalise the actions of our unconscious minds and present them as an entirely correct, politically consistent course of action regardless of what it was or how uninvolved we are in the decision.

All this needs to be considered in any attempt to say why the KLF burnt a million pounds. If the central protagonists were as baffled as everyone else about their behaviour, and if other characters are not even aware that they are in this story, that leaves us with something of a problem. In this instance, asking the protagonists what happened all these years later would not only fail to illuminate those events, it would almost certainly take us decidedly off course. Many journalists have already tried this approach, interviewing Cauty and Drummond at length about the burning, and it hasn’t really got them anywhere.

What is the alternative? We are left with the spectacle, and it is from within this spectacle that any answer to why they burnt a million pounds must be sought. This approach seems particularly well suited to this story, because taking an encyclopaedic, academic approach to The KLF is not going to reveal the things that we’re searching for. Drummond and Cauty stumbled map-less through their own stories, taking and using whatever they felt useful, so that is the approach we will take as well. We are attempting to find the spirit of those events, and we can only do that by invoking them ourselves.

Here, then, is a story that the cast were not told they were in.

Buy The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band who Burned a Million Pounds by JMR Higgs on Amazon.

On the ZX Spectum’s 36th birthday we chat to the writer of Hey Hey 16k

The ZX Spectrum and B3ta has a entwined history – an animation we made for the song Hey Hey 16k by MJ Hibbett was an early viral hit in ooh May 2004.

Today this song popped into our mind on learning that old rubber-keyed bastards was launched 36 years ago on the 23rd April 1982.

36 years. Wow.

A machine that changed the lives of a generation – it was cheap and it was fun and directly lead to a generation of coders who still fiddle on sites like B3ta and beyond.

Our animation was launched to a pre-YouTube world of flash videos, after we spotted the song in the NTK newsletter and figured it might do well if paired with some ZX Spectrum footage.

Six hours of work later here it was.

(Embeded Youtube as the old flash version might not work on your modern browser or phone.)

Anyway – we figured rather than just embed a video we’d ring up MJ and get a few quotes:

Earliest Spectrum memory?

When we first got one, Christmas day 1982, family legend has it I was so happy I fainted.

What games did you get?

We only had the tape that came with it. Something called ‘foxes and rabbits’ – which demonstrated through stats that foxes died if they got too fat from eating rabbits and vice versa.

My brother got Horace Goes Skiing – it was rubbish, but he didn’t think it was rubbish but he was biased.

Tell us about the writing of the song?

Wow, this was over 20 years ago and I remember thinking that my idea of the 1980s was becoming a forgotten period of history, that my idea of the 1980s was being erased.

It was all New Romantics and city boys and I wanted to reclaim the 1980s for people like me.

I didn’t think that many people remembered it. But it was amazing when Dave Green started doing t-shirts – over 30 people bought them.

30 people remembered the 80s like I did, and when B3ta did the video it went mental.

The more personal the subject you write about then the more people will like it.

Although this is not always true.

Write about gravel and no one cares.

But emotional memoroies like this do resonate.

So what experiences did you have from the song becoming an internet ‘hit’

When video came out for the first couple of days it was the 5th biggest thing on whole internet.

The other four things about the Afghanistan invasion.

Not as popular as war, but still good.

We also got to play a retro-gaming convention. We rehearsed it and played properly and did it as our opening number and everyone jumped on tables and screamed.

But then they sat stoney faced through the next six songs which weren’t about old computers so we played the song again and they jumped on the tables again.

Then then got treated like big massive rock stars – it was amazing experience.

So the ZX Spectrum 36 years old today….

Well that can’t be right – I must have be minus 10 years old when it came out.

Actually, now that my generation has passed into middle age and what we care about is no longer the focus of popular culture, the ZX Spectrum is in danger of being forgotten again as another generation has other ideas of what they want to celebrate.

It’s a great British success story we should never forget.


Thank you.

And thank you Mark for chatting to us – and if you want more Spectrum fun we advise you head over to the Internet Archive were over 9,000 titles are available to play inside the browser.

Lookalikes: Snow (rapper) & Stephen Milligan (MP found dead in stockings, with an orange in his mouth)

Reader Sam Bamb Thank Your Gran writes, “Have you ever thought about how much Snow (rapper) looks like Stephen Milligan (MP found dead in stockings, with an orange in his mouth)?”

“Because I have”, she continues.

It’s uncanny.